Tuesday, November 28, 2006

China-Japan History

Jian Junbo's thought-provoking essay on history and Japan-China relations ends with the intriguing idea of the two nations "writing" a mutually acceptable history of their relations in order that they can build a mutually beneficial relationship.

The problem here, as Jian points out, is that Koizumi decided to break with post-war Japanese narratives of the war with China to pander to right-wing nationalists for political reasons. Like Bush's similar pandering to the right wing in the United States, Koizumi's rhetoric has only undermined his nation's world standing in the long run. China is a rising power may soon surpass Japan as the region's most important nation. Japan is having trouble dealing with this. Approving textbooks that whitewash Japan's horrible treatment of China between 1931 and 1945 is no way to fix the problem. Does Japan really want to create an enemy with China? That would be suicidal.

Jian is right that sitting down and coming up with a mutually acceptable narrative is a good way for both nations to move on. But how does this happen so long as Japan moves in an increasingly nationalistic direction? The first months of Shinzo Abe's administration will say a lot about how relations will turn between the nations for the rest of the decade.